The Cal Poly Creamery and San Luis Coastal Unified School District have teamed up to provide students with more locally-produced food.
Families that sign up to receive the school district's weekly food distribution kits will now find Cal Poly cheese and eggs in their boxes.
The school district recently switched from kits that included prepared meals to a pantry box with bulk items such as bread, dairy items, and produce.
The first pantry boxes were handed out on December 16, just before schools went on winter break, and the district's Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Erin Primer, says the feedback from recipients was extremely positive.
"This truly was like a Christmas present [for recipients] getting to open local cheese and eggs and they really feel like it's very special, and then it allows them to really make the things that make sense for their own household," Primer said.
Approximately 2,000 students per week receive the boxes and each box is designed to produce 15 meals.
Primer says that prior to the pandemic, about one in every six children in San Luis Obispo County was considered food insecure. Now, they estimate that's about one in four children.
"We're seeing a lot more families who are potentially out of work, they've lost jobs, they've reduced hours, also trying to be home with kids with distance learning - we're seeing a lot of impact on the financial situation of our general households," she said.
San Luis Coastal began working with the Cal Poly Creamery to introduce Cal Poly eggs and cheese to the meal program just a couple of months ago.
The university's Dairy Operations Manager, Craig Russell, says this new partnership not only benefits the school district and the students who are receiving the food but Cal Poly students, as well.
Cal Poly provides the items to the school district at a discounted price, while the production of the eggs and cheese provides more on-campus jobs for students in dairy production, food science, and nutrition.
Currently, about 30 Cal Poly students work at the dairy and 20 work at the creamery.
"I think the students really appreciate at Cal Poly the ability to kinda dig in and really help out in this situation," Russell said.
Cal Poly also hopes to provide milk to the school district in the future.
In addition to Cal Poly, the school district works with several other local businesses to source food for the weekly meal kits, including Edna's Bakery, Central Coast Creamery, The Berry Man, and other local farms.
The weekly pantry meal kits are distributed every Friday. They are free for all children 0-18 years old and recipients do not have to be enrolled in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District to qualify.
Visit slcusdfood.org to sign up for the food distribution program.